The gang’s all here! And everyone arrived in time to wish Lexi a very Happy Birthday!
After spending last night in San Jose, we left at 8am this morning on our scenic drive to Los Santos. Our first stop was a coffee coop where we learned all about the process of transforming coffee from plant to beverage. We even learned how the experts taste and classify coffee.
Then we were off to our beautiful home away from home, Cedrela Eco Lodge, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch, had orientation, and got to know each other. Tomorrow is our first day of service and our wake up call is 6am! Time to get some sleep!
Today a day of firsts. It was our first morning waking up in our home away from home, Cedrela. It was our first day of community service, which took place in the town of San Pedro. When we first arrived there this morning, David facilitated a discussion on sustainable development. Then we all went to the coffee farm of one of the community members. There we worked to support his efforts in switching his farm from traditional to organic in order to avoid the health problems and environmental damage associated with using chemicals on plants. Hopefully other members of the community will follow his lead! Before lunch, the children of the community welcomed us with a traditional dance and even pulled us up at the end to participate. Then we enjoyed a delicious lunch prepared by the moms of the community. When we returned to Cedrela, we had our first Spanish class. We enjoyed some free time before dinner and a group activity afterwards.
Just beginning to fall into a routine, we rose today at 6:00 and were greeted to oversized cinnamon pancakes and an array of fresh, homemade fruit jellies for breakfast at 6:30. Memo, our cook, is truly fantastic and each meal is something to look forward to and always both a surprise and a delight. He has a unique way of representing traditional Costa Rican cuisine while also elevating it and working in flavors and textures familiar to our American palates.
With breakfast finished, we all scrambled to make it to the bus by 7:15, and proceeded to drive through the steep, lush, and scenic Costa Rican mountains to the village of San Pedro. Once in San Pedro we divided into two groups, with an emphasis on maximizing the diversity of genders and ages in both groups. One group, led by Lorenzo, went to plant new coffee plants and finish digging aqueducts, and the other group, led by Alyssa (is this spelled right? Sorry if it isn’t) mixed and spread vocache. Each of these projects took place on separate ecological coffee farms.
In Alyssa’s group, everyone was thoroughly engaged in mixing “Bukashi.” Bukashi is a mixture of horse, chicken, and other animal feces. Included in the mix, is dried parchment from the outside of coffee beans. The word Bukashi derived from Japan. First, the Bukashi was seperated from a big pile, to the sides. Next, we would put the feces and parchment in the middle and mix it again by moving the Bukashi to the opposite sides and then back into the middle. After, the Bukashi was mixed, we put it into sacks that was then loaded to the truck. A local drove us to drop them off into the woods and we got to ride in the back of a pick up truck.
In Lorenzo’s group we began the workaday by trekking down an unpaved windy road to reach the first coffee farm. On the terraced farm there were sticks marking the places to dig holes for the new plants. The soil was a rich red brown color, meaning that it is nutrient depleted, but it was wonderful to work with. We worked quickly and soon were ready to begin planting. There were about 40 baby coffee plants, with their roots wrapped up in black plastic, and we began carrying them over to Arturo, our expert and entertainer, to have them cut open. After a few plants had been planted we began naming each new plant, and every opening became something of a birthing ceremony. We had Jorge Ramos Juan Carlos, Arturo, Arturotito, Guillermo de Los Caballos, Benito, Karen, Molly, Shirley Temple, and many others.
With the plating done, we walked further into the Costa Rican countryside to continue digging aqueducts on on a farm we had worked on yesterday. Everyone worked vigilantly and merrily and much got done. We took a break to have a refreshing snack of mango and papaya, provided by the local moms. By 11 PM work for the day came to a close and we walked back to the community center to eat a delicious lunch of gallo pinto, squash, and beef stew provided again by the locals. Today we were able to actually eat with them at the same table as us, and had the chance to both practice our Spanish and thoroughly thank them for the hospitality and generosity.
At 2:00, back at home base, we began our daily Spanish classes. The theme of the day was music and dance, and we learned about the various music/dance styles of Latin America. Even better, we then got to practice them, and we later treated to an exhilarating, exhausting Zumba class.
We finished the day with a some sort of scrumptious lasagne fusion dish and a trust building activity in which we guided each other through various tasks, blind. Overall today was a day of bonding, helping, learning, enjoying, and laughing. We can’t wait for what surprises will come next.
By Lorenzo and Alyssa
Leaders of the day
The day started off with a huge gift- thirty more minutes of sleep! Immediately, there was an eager buzz in the air. We were going to being our trek to Guayabo Lodge, stopping at Volcano Irazu and Cartago on the way. To fuel us for this incredible adventure, Memo(the amazingly talented chef at the home base) cooked us a pancake breakfast with assorted fruits and syrups. As Lexi, one of our fellow travelers, says, ”It was muy delicioso.” After breakfast, we loaded our overnight bags and full stomachs into the van.
We took off, blasting Pitbull and shouting “Hola!” to every person we saw out the windows. About half way through our three hour bus ride, our unbelievably tolerant bus driver, named Mario, slowed the bus down and advised that we all had to get out. We pulled over and everyone was welcomed by cool air and a jaw-dropping view. Mountains created the landscape for farms to spread across and clouds to roll over. We played in the fields, throwing rocks and lying in the grass. Manuel, a GLA mentor, called us over and told us that the reason we got out was because a tire had popped. He also said that the only way only solution was entailed all of us lifting the bus. We followed his directions and the car didn’t budge! We then heard snickering and laughing from all the counselors in the background. They had tricked us! Yes, the tire was flat, but we didn’t need to lift the van!
Before we knew it, we were stepping foot on one of the largest volcanoes in Costa Rica. The beautiful black sand contrasted with the drifting misty air, giving off a mystical aura. We bonded as a group by hiking halfway up a mountain and giving piggy-back rides. We ended the exciting tour of the volcano Irazu by purchasing a foison of souvenirs at the gift shop, many of which were aviator sunglasses.
The volcano hike left us ravenous. We sated our appetites with a lunch at Puerta Del Sol. A variety of meals were consumed along with plenty of exotic drinks. Some of the meals included rice and beans, accompanied by “carne”, or meat. A popular choice was the most traditional Costa Rican dish of all- hamburgers with fries! We might have sated our hunger, but we hadn’t satisfied our curiosity. Basilica de Los Angeles and a stroll through the surrounding city was what we needed. Basilica de Los Angeles is a church in the center of Cartago that is the destination of an annual pilgrimage take by Costa Ricans from all over the country. It is the way that Costa Ricans can show their recognition of a greater presence and thank or request something from Them.
We then completed our journey with a two hour bus ride to Guayabo Lodge, located in Turrialba. There we found comfort in the breathtaking scenery and most importantly, the wifi. We once again indulged in the final dinner of the day. This comprised of pasta with homemade sauce, a fresh iced tea, and a mousse desert that was made from a locally cherished fruit. This was followed by an uplifting group activity in which people anonymously shared their appreciation for one another. The night was concluded with a group massage train that resulted in many moans, groans, and deep gratitude. Everyone retired to their rooms, falling asleep within minutes. The last words on everyone’s mind being,” Pura Vida!”
Ethan & Claire
Our day rafting started off with breakfast at the Guayabo Lodge, which included fruit, bread, coffee, rice and beans, and cornflakes. Afterwards, we boarded the bus to the Pacuare River, where we spent about four hours on the river. We put on our life jackets and helmets, organized ourselves into rafts, and learned the safety rules before we set out on the water. We all rafted through the forest, with our guides pointing out hotels and waterfalls along the way. Each boat had its own adventures, including running aground on a rock and nearly flipping over! We all made it to our lunch on the beach safely. Lunch consisted of a burrito-making buffet and loads of pineapple and watermelon, and afterwards, we went out on the rafts again.
After we ate lunch that was prepared on two upside down river rafts, we continued down the river where I was presented with one of the most incredible, breath-taking moments of my life. Closed in by two walls we entered a strip of the river that was calm enough that our guides let us jump out and float along with the current for a while. In addition to being surrounded by beautiful expanses of exotic green scenery there was a fog of pure joy hovering over my group members and myself. It was like nothing else. Having moments like that with people you’re just getting to know is a rare experience, and the rarity of it all opens your eyes to the simple truth of how we are all the rarest of people. The rafting was super tiring so the 4 hour ride home was a raft-coma-snooze fest. It was no coincidence that the best day of the trip yet was the day I was chosen to be one of it’s leaders. It was something I desperately needed to ease my homesickness adn open my eyes.
We rose today at 6:00 A.M. We woke up the boys in their cabins first and then the girls. We organized the dining room so that everyone could have breakfast. Everyone entered the bus, and we were on our way.
After we arrived at the community center, everyone was organized into two separate groups. One group made and mixed a natural fertilizer called bocachi, a mixture of different animal waste and other materials which would not be used, and learned about how this organic fertilizer enriched the almost sterile soil. The other group fertilized the plants with bocachi which was made earlier.
After we completed our service for the day, we were served lunch, which consisted of fried fish, mashed potatoes, and an assortment of fruits and vegetables, by a group of local mothers. Once we were on our way, we stopped for Spanish lessons in a nearby town, went to the local park, learned more about the town, and visited, “Cafe Privelagados” one of the top ten coffee shops in the world. Afterwards we started our return.
Nearing the end of our day, we returned to home base where we had mentor groups, ate dinner, and sang a song with Manuel.
-Rahil and Evan
On this particular July 16, 2015 morning we started with a breakfast consisting of lunch-like food that was different yet delicious. Soon after we hopped on the bus heading to our service site, San Pedro. One half of the group went to a local farm to fertilize coffee plants. The other half of our group worked with the Bukashi that was extra “fresh.” After the Bukashi had been fermenting over night, it was difficult to work as hard as usual, but the group was able to pull through and did the best they could. Before lunch we played an intense soccer game with the entire group which ended with a tie. For lunch the group had spaghetti with meat which was comfort and gave us a taste of home. After lunch the group went fishing and caught 20 trouts which were brought to home base by our group leaders. When we got to home base each of us cleaned a fish. Later on we prepared the fish with seasoning, and fried and mixed it with our Chief’s sauce. As we cooked, the entire group had an amazing dance party with Spanish music in the kitchen. After preparing dinner we all sat and enjoyed a meal that was done by the entire group. Then, the group had a complete hour of free time and by 9:30 all 15 of us were in our cabins ready to get a good night’s sleep for our next adventure tomorrow.
– Edgar and Sophie
Today our groups did a lot of hard work finishing up with the Bokachi and fertilizing more of the coffee plants on the ecological coffee plantation in San Pedro.
My group, which consisted of Samir, Rahil, Elana, Claire, Edgar, Lorenzo and myself, all decided to take on the biggest challenge of the morning mixing the Bokachi that had been sitting in a heaping hot pile for 3 days.
For those who are not familiar with Bokachi it is a Japanese farming technique in which multiple different organic materials are mixed repeatedly to make a fine soil.
The shoveling is in and of itself is difficult enough without the horrendous stench- so bad in fact that we had to wear masks that covered our noses and mouths. Even then some of us, some if not most of us felt ill afterwards. In addition it became almost hot to the touch and a significant amount of steam continued to rise, indicating a steep rate of decomposition of the materials.
Being quite frank shoveling the pile was a difficult task, but there was something oddly satisfying knowing that we had done a job well done for a very good cause that would impact the lives of many in the long run.
In the other group, members continued to fertilize coffee plants, this time on a different plot. Both groups worked incredibly hard, but there was something so full filling and almost awry in helping this community and simultaneously observing the blood, sweat, and tears that go into every single cup of coffee.
The people in San Pedro have been incredibly hospitable and we are always greeted by wide smiles. Theres a saying here in Costa Rica, Pura Vida, and the community really exemplifies this in their daily lives. We are also extremely grateful to have mothers of the community to volunteer to cook and serve lunch to us daily. The food has been nothing short of succulent. Finally, working with Alvero, a local coffee farmer who has worked the land almost his entire life, has been very illuminating. None of us truly knew what to expect when we first came here, but he, alongside all the other Costa Ricans that we have met, are incredibly hard working yet so full of heart, love, and laughter. This is something that each and everyone of us will take home with us and that we will never forget for as long as we live.
Samir and Molly
Today was an unusual day in the life of 15 GLA teenagers. We started off the day with a delicious breakfast of Gallo Pinto, plantains and amazing cheese sticks. With our stomachs full we made it to our last day at our wonderful worksite, San Pedro. We had our first cementing experience that ended short when the rain began to fall. One would think we decided to go indoors, but that’s just incorrect. Instead, we took off our wet work boots and played a game of soccer in the pouring rain. You know that amazing feeling of being free and not caring about how you look and sharing that moment with the people around you? Yeah, that’s how it felt.
After our intense morning, we had built up an impressive appetites. For lunch the mothers of San Pedro made an amazing meal that satisfied all. With it being our last day in San Pedro, To show our appreciation for the time and effort that they put into our stay, we went in a circle and verbalized our thanks in Spanish, as well as sang Manuel’s beautiful song, Semilla (seed).
Once we finished saying our thanks, we headed off to Santa Maria. There, we went to the Dota Café, said to be one of the best cafés in the world. Once we finished our drinks we split into groups to explore the quaint yet authentic town. Some groups bought new clothes since we were still soaking wet, others browsed through bakeries and supermarkets. We finished touring through the city around 3:30 and started off toward Cedrela. We were very happy to have time to relax, clean up, and socialize at home base. Dinner followed by a TED talk rounded up the night, and everyone headed off to bed.
Elana and Lexi
Mornings at Cedrela are a magical thing. The light begins to slowly seep through the curtains, begging for them to be thrown open to expose the verdant vistas of the Costa Rican mountains Cedrela affords to all 15 GLA campers. The skies are always clear and the temperature always perfect, and so although it’s early, it’s a pleasure to rise.
Breakfast this morning was quesadillas, a first as always. But it was a bit of an after thought because our minds were all on the day to come. It was our first day away from San Pedro, and in a new community called Zapotal. The ride to Zapotal was a bit longer, but it was much more beautiful, if that’s even possible. It’s an even smaller community than San Pedro, but it’s views are far superior.
In Zapotal we were welcomed into the community by a traditional dance by the local women. Their smiles were warm, and they seemed genuinely happy for us to be there. Our work for the day was to make Ecobricks. They’re an ingenious invention in green development: plastic bottles are filled to the brim with more plastic and then concrete is poured over them. The amount of plastic that can be fit into a single bottle was staggering, and in the 4 hour work period, the average person only was able to fill 2-3 bottles. Nevertheless, it really felt like we were making a difference.
For the first lunch in the community the moms prepared Casado: gallo pinto, plantains, and chicken. It was delicious, but we quickly rushed off to play soccer and bond with the locals. One sweaty hour later, we made our way back to the community hall and drank coffee prepared by the moms. With the coffee consumed, we made our way back Cedrela. There was no Spanish class, so there was more free time, and the day ended with a conversation about the success of the trip thus far. As we cross the half way mark, friendships are only growing stronger, and thoughts of home growing weaker.
-Lorenzo and Mateo
Monday morning was a very exciting morning for us at the GLA home base. After a long strand of hard raining, working days, we couldn’t dim the anticipation of spending two days at the beach. On the way to the Pacific we took several varieties of transportation. We took a van for about half an hour, then we took two flatbed 4×4 pick up trucks for two hours. We traveled through the Costa Rican rainforest! Then we went into our usual bus which took us about a half an hour to get to the beach. Upon arrival we had lunch near the ocean. We then spent the rest of the day playing in the waves and bathing in the sun. As a group we enjoyed different varieties of coconut juice. After a long day at the beach we went and found our way back to the hotel and ate dinner. After dinner several members of the group went in the pool at the hotel. By 10pm we were all exhausted and ready for bed.
-Claire and Edgar
This morning the group woke up bright and early to enjoy a breakfast buffet at 7:30. We had gallo pinto (rice and beans), a delicious array of fruits, toast, coffee and orange juice. After breakfast, we gathered our belongings from the Diuwak Hotel and we were on our way to The Manuel Antonio National Park. Our tour guide’s name was Leo and he was the first licensed tour guide in 1982. We walked the path, and on our way we saw a variety of different creatures. There were spiders, sloths, giant grasshoppers, monkeys, and more! We were allowed to look at some of these incredible species through a telescope. After the 2 hour walk, we finally arrived at the beach of the national park. Here we gathered shells, made sand sculptures, and climbed rocks to the other side of the beach. After spending another day in the waves, we enjoyed a late 3:00 lunch at a beachside restaurant. Following the lunch, we were on our way back home to Cedrela. Arriving at 8:00 pm from a four hour car ride, we were greeted with a fish dinner. Being all so tired from a miniature vacation, on a vacation, we went to bed, awaiting for the next day to come.
Breakfast at 6:30 consisted of fried egg, grilled cheese, plantains, and cheese cubes. The day had a late start- we left Cedrella at 7:40 instead of 7:15 because of how close our worksite would be. Our task was to cement the sidewalk for a house in Santa Maria that completely burned down.
Once we were there, we realized we had lost our groove. We had just come back from a two-day beach trip and we had to reacclimatize ourselves to work. Eventually everyone was tired and ready for lunch.
Lunch was a delicious plate of gallo pinto, salad and fries-and to top it all off, guayabana juice. Afterwards, everyone sat down at a near by river. Soon, all of us hopped into the bus, and went to San Marcos for Spanish class. The 15 leaders were split up and toured the beautiful town. Around 3:30, one group caught a bus to Santa Maria. The other group missed the bus and had to take two taxis. Once we met in Santa Maria, everyone headed back to Cedrela.
Our group activity was “The Human Knot.” Everyone grabbed each others’ hands and had to try to untangle them. We finished the day with a mouth watering chilupapa (The Costa Rican way to say “Chilupa”) and headed off to bed.
-Elana and Ethan
We started our day off with some omelettes and cheese fajitas before climbing on the bus and heading to the mountain town of Zapotal. We did community service for four hours, mixing cement for the town sidewalk and building ecobricks out of plastic waste. For lunch, we had chicken, rice, beans, and tostadas. We also had coffee and hot chocolate with the community before we took the bus back to Cedrela for Spanish class.
In Spanish, we learned the Spanish names and tastes of the unique yet delicious Costa Rican fruits. We also learned different dance and singing routines for the upcoming talent show. We ended the day with a delicious dinner and a “relaxing” massage circle after a hard day of back-breaking cement work.
Amira and Evan
We rose today at 6:00 to be met with an assortment of eggs with ham, hash browns, and toast coated with strawberry jam in the dining hall. After we finished breakfast, we loaded into the bus and went on our way to Zapotal, a small community built on a secluded mountain and in need of a sidewalk to the local school.
We arrived at 8:30 after some bus trouble and first took a walk with David through a coffee plantation to a water spring. There we had a discussion about saving and wasting water. Once back at the community hall, we divided into two groups. One stuffed plastic packaging into plastic bottles in order to make the base of a staircase, while the other group worked on mixing and placing cement to create a sidewalk.
At 12:00 we ate a traditional lunch of rice, beans, plantains, salsa, and tamales. Then we cleaned up and re-entered the bus to come back home to Cedrela.
Once we arrived at Cedrela, we prepared dances and songs for our Spanish class graduation. One group sang “Vivir mi Vida” and the other group danced to a style called Kuduro, a mix of Latin American and Portuguese music. It was a bittersweet moment because we were all sad to be saying goodbye to our teachers, but proud of all our accomplishments.
After some down time we ate a Dinner of grilled beef, rice with vegetables, potatoes, and a delicious salad of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetables. After dinner, we practiced for tomorrow’s talent show and had free time to unwind from today’s excitement.
-Rahil and Sophie
Today was the last day of service in the community of Zapotal. We focused today on making Eco bricks: plastic bottles stuffed with more plastic which are then combined with concrete to make various infrastructure improvements. We were able to make 100 of them in total, and we then used them to create stairs going down to the Zapotal soccer field. With the concrete poured and smoothed, we imprinted our hands and names and then headed in for another delicious Zapotal meal.
As lunch ended we said our thanks and goodbyes and played one last game of soccer with the people of Zapotal. After, we went to the city of San Marcos for an hour to go souvenir shopping. However we had to hurry back to home base because the talent show was later that evening and we needed to prepare. We arrived at around 3:30 and had an hour an a half to break off into our groups and rehearse. At 7:00 that night people from both of the communities we worked in came to watch the talent show. It was a weird yet entertaining evening. As the show came to a close we invited up the locals to dance with us in a final celebration of gratitude, love, and goodbyes.
-Mateo and Lexi
Following our very successful talent show for the communities we worked with, today the group went on a Quetzal hike in the forest. For those who are not familiar a quetzal is an extremely endangered bird with red, blue and green feathers only founding select rainforest in the mountains of Costa Rica. Our guide was very skilled with a telescope and although these birds have been know to scare easily, we were able to see females up in the canopy with ease. It is somewhat sad to think that our everyday actions back home are killing off these birds as well as thousands of other animal species across the globe. When the hike concluded we headed back for lunch to a local restaurant. We appreciated a refreshing change of cuisine and the trout especially was divine. The restaurant also had a garden filled with hummingbirds which were enjoyed by all. Some lucky individuals even got them to land directly on their hands. Crystal was one of those spectacular fews. For the rest of the day we sank back into our daily routines of free time at home base with a short talk with David about the importance of the work we do. The simple moments at home base are surprisingly the ones I feel will be most vividly remembered. It blows my mind how a group of teenagers with no previous connections with each other somehow formed bonds that were the sanctuary of late night laughter far past our bedtimes, mischievous tricks on our loving mentors, sassy comebacks and deep conversations about life, the future, and sometimes the painful present. Today it hit me that were almost done here and soon, the “R” in my name will go back to its boring sound that was rolled so gracefully off the tongues of the locals and community members that were so insanely hospitable towards us. It doesn’t work like that in Seattle. I might not ever see these people again and although it’s a slightly disturbing realization, when I think back on this experience, the love is what I’ll remember and that’s enough for me. The love that I was fortunate enough to receive, and the love that I didn’t know I had left to offer.